How Indian American Tej Gundavelli’s Touch-A-Life is changing communities, one nonprofit at a time

Ritu Jha–

Earlier this month, Touch-A-Life Foundation (TAL), an Indian American-led nonprofit established to help homeless students, celebrated World Kindness Day to promote kindness to “build a better, brighter tomorrow” in Fremont, California. TAL, active in the US and India, says it leverages digital technologies like blockchain, AI, social media, and mobile applications to do good and help people who require assistance.

Tej Gundavelli, TAL’s founder & CEO, and a senior software engineer at Sunrun, a home solar panel and battery storage company, spoke to indica about the organization’s mission to transform lives by connecting “those in need, with those willing to give”.

“TAL organizes this event every year to bring nonprofit organizations together to raise awareness within the community, to encourage people to either donate in kind or in time and get involved in being able to get involved with kindness and be able to make the community a better place,” Gundavelli told indica.

TAL was set up in 2014. It first verifies nonprofits for legitimacy, and then offers services to them to connect them with donors. “We also facilitate payments so that people can donate money to organizations in the US and India,” Gundavelli said.

It has other umbrella organizations as well. TAL Hospital, for instance, does pro bono medical work through AI, where people can learn immediately about various medicine-related information, and be able to treat themselves pro bono using large language models (LLMs) trained on medical data.

“We are trying to make this a global organization. Any nonprofit can become our member, there’s no membership fee, they just need to add themselves to the TAL platform, and anyone on the TAL donor network can donate,” Gundavelli said.

He added, “Through the Talgiving app, you can donate to any of the listed organizations. We launched an app because there were different nonprofits that needed help. In 2020, we really doubled down on that investment,” Gundavelli added.

After graduating from UC, Berkeley, Gundavelli put his computer science and software engineering knowledge to good use. “I figured that the best way to use this knowledge is to build an app that facilitates community organizations. We have been able to convince many, but we’re always looking to broaden our audience.”

At TAL, Gundavelli said, the inevitable transition to AI has begun. “We want to see how AI can make it easier to find nonprofits and how we can help them. These services and tools are pro bono for the verified nonprofits.”

He said, “They can use technologies provided by us free. They don’t have to hire engineers or consultancy firms. These services will help them reach their donors and strengthen their network. We hope people are inspired to join the TAL platform, listen to TAL Radio, and use all of the TAL products so that they can channel their time and money to help the community.”

TAL Radio has 1.6 million listeners. Through this medium, organizations can raise awareness and connect with volunteers and donors. “Then there’s TAL Transformers where we involve the youth. They learn social entrepreneurship through our boot camps. We encourage them to start their own nonprofit,” Gundavelli said.

The ‘mission of kindness’ idea came to Gundavelli when he was in school. “At the East Side Union High School District [San Jose, California] there were 63 homeless students. I wanted to explore ways to help the community. By 2019, there were 300 homeless high school students in East Side Union High School District, and now there are about 1200.”

Social workers track either students without a home or those that lack a stable home and are moved from shelter to shelter. Students who have lost their parents due to health-related issues, and students who lost their houses in accidents fall under this category. “This number is growing due to the homelessness crisis in the Bay Area. We want to make it easier for such districts to be able to raise donations.”

TAL has helped schools for the blind in India, as also other local organizations in the US. “It makes a lot of sense for us to tap into the Indian American community because we have so many smart engineers. If we create a way for them to channel their will to help the community, then I think we have achieved our objective.”